The deluge of articles over the president’s first term means that even those who have only a passing interest in politics can rattle off words used to describe just how the president leads. Aloof. Unflappable. Cool. Consensus-building. Insular. Pragmatic. The characteristics and criticisms are so well known that they’ve become caricatures of the man currently leading the country.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the best long-form articles that dissect with more nuance how the president leads. There are, of course, plenty of shorter pieces (as well as books by everyone from Ron Suskind to Bob Woodward) that have analyzed the president’s leadership. But for this exercise, I tried to stick with an array of meaty profiles from over the course of the president’s first campaign and first term that best explore the job Obama has done and how he has done it. There are many, of course, but here are a few that shouldn’t be missed:
“The Conciliator,” by Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker
MacFarquhar’s 2007 portrait of candidate Obama is memorable both for how well it holds up after all the turmoil of his first term (“Obama is always disappointing people who feel that he gives too much respect or yields too much ground to the other side, rather than fighting aggressively for his principles”) and for how much has changed (“Obama’s voting record is one of the most liberal in the Senate, but he has always appealed to Republicans, perhaps because he speaks about liberal goals in conservative language”).
What was then a fresh, detailed look at a rising star on the political stage helps readers to unpack and re-examine views of the president after years of leadership stereotypes. MacFarquhar’s deeply reported profile pushes to explain the president’s “drive to compromise” in personal, not just political, terms — depicting that drive as “instinctive, almost a tic,” rather than as a failing he has the ability to control.
“Obama, the loner president,” by Scott Wilson in The Washington Post
Any chief executive’s job, and especially the president’s, is a lonely one. But White House correspondent Scott Wilson deftly weaves together a look at one of the defining characteristics of Obama’s presidency: that he is, as Wilson puts it, “a political loner.” Whether it’s his small circle of advisers or his unwillingness to work the rope lines and glad-hand supporters, Obama has repeatedly come under question for a cool, detached personality that appears to favor policy over people. Wilson’s 2011 piece poses a smart question (“Is it possible to be America’s most popular politician and not be very good at American politics?”) and carefully examines how much not being a traditional “people person” hurts Obama’s leadership.